In the early morning hours of this day in 1777, British General John Burgoyne launches a three-column attack against General Horatio Gates and his American forces in the First Battle of Saratoga, also known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm.
Coming under heavy cannon fire from the approaching British troops, General Gates initially ordered the Northern Army to be patient and wait until the British neared before launching a counter-attack. General Gates’ second in command, American Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, strongly disagreed with Gates’ orders and did not hesitate to share his opinion with his superior. After arguing for several hours, General Arnold was finally able to convince Gates to order American troops onto the battlefield to meet the center column of the approaching British, and to dispatch a regiment of riflemen to intercept the British right flank.
Although the Americans were able to inflict severe casualties on the British, the delay in ordering a counter-attack forced the Americans to fall back. During the five-hour battle, the Americans lost approximately 280 troops killed, while the British suffered a more severe loss of more than 550 killed.
Due to their heated argument and disagreement over military decisions at the First Battle of Saratoga, General Gates removed General Arnold as his second in command. Arnold continued to feel slighted by the army he served, and in 1780, he betrayed the Patriot cause by offering to hand over the Patriot-held fort at West Point, New York, to the British. With West Point in their control, the British would have controlled the critical Hudson River Valley and separated New England from the rest of the colonies. Arnold’s wife, Margaret, was a Loyalist and would not have objected to his plans. However, his plot was foiled, and Arnold, the hero of the early battles of Ticonderoga and Saratoga, became the most famous traitor in American history. He continued to fight on the side of the British and, after the war, returned to Britain, where he died destitute in London in 1801.